Evolution, whether in the marketplace or on islands in the Pacific Ocean prompts more specialized and unusual forms to develop. And so too with knives and choppers in particular. It used to be that the KaBar was about the biggest knife most people had seen. But in recent years pushed by new steels like 3V and an explosion in the knife market folks like Busse and Bark River have produced a series of spectacular choppers one bigger and more outrageous than the previous model. This is how you end up with the Bravo 3 in 3V.
But in this world of stupendous choppers, one beast rules the roost--the Spinosaurus of the chopper world--larger and more specialized than anything else: the TM Hunt M18. This is a knife that punishes its targets and rewards its user. If you have the skill to negotiate its complex design you can do just about any kind of cutting you'd want with this knife short of 4-axis CNC cuts. You can do detail work, you can bomb through tree limbs, and you can peel bark like an arboreal monkey. Its a great push cutter and chisel and, according to many, but not me, it pops a deer joint like the jaws of life. In the process of testing this blade I pushed myself hard, resulting in a long-term strain that even now, a month or so later still nags me. But the M18 itself, it laughed at everything I through at it.
One caveat before I go any further. Despite going really deep on gear, I have, for the most part, avoided single purpose specialized gear. I have not, for example, reviewed a single specialized dive light like this beast. So I am a bit hesitant to review something as complex as the M18. This is clearly and indisputably a specialized tool for advanced users. I am not an advanced user. I would probably say I am an advanced beginner. I know how to sharpen a knife and how to chop properly, but I am not capable of whittling a spoon from a piece of driftwood. As TM Hunt made clear in this episode of GGL, the M18 is designed as a tool for folks that have a lot of knife knowledge. And so, with that one major caveat out of the way, let's get to the review.
Here is the product page. The M18 is a handmade, single source custom with a bevy of options, including either a kydex or leather sheath (for more on my taxonomy of custom knives, see here). The base cost is $475. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find TM Hunt knives, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:
Here is my review sample:
Twitter Review Summary: Like a Sasquatch and a Leatherman had a baby--a versatile beast.
Its hard to truly appreciate this weird looking knife until you get it in your hand and use it. Once you do, all of your anxieties about it looking like a cartoon version of a sperm whale (or whatever else you see in this Rorschach test of a knife).
Every curve and cut serves a purpose and serves it well. This knife is weird because it is highly functional, and here, as it always should be, form follows function.
The danger would a complex design like this one--something that intended to do many things--is that complexity tends to reduce functionality. This is the Multitool Problem. For every new feature or device you include you reduce the overall performance of the other implements. But here, TM Hunt has been a good student of blade, and created a design that sacrifices very little in terms of performance, despite having quite a few features.
For example, the portion of the edge that actually does the chopping, the part in front of the spokeshave but before the belly, is actually pretty small compared to the chopping edge on a similarly sized knife. But what Hunt realized is that the edge doesn't need to be that long. A chopper works not because it had a nine inch cutting edge, but because of all that mass necessitated by having a nine inch cutting edge. The operative portion of that edge, from a chopping perspective, is about 5 inches. And so on the M18 you get all of that mass (and then some), but you still have room for more than kind of edge. If you think about how good a chopper an axe is, you realize this point right away. They never have more than 5 or 6 inches of cutting edge and yet they are built for chopping.
Every feature is like that here. The rounded and curved spine for your hand not only acts as a good grip when using the spokeshave on the blade (aka draw knife), it also does a good job as target when batonning the M18 through wood. Thanks to the crowned spine, the knife doesn't chew up your baton anywhere near as fast. Over and over again, Hunt's clever and complex design reinforces more than one task. In the end, the M18's lines, though strange, are clearly purpose-built and clever. This is the epitome of a well-designed tool. And while me writing this out gives you an idea of how well all of these features play with each other, you need to get an M18 in hand to truly appreciate its design greatness.
On the podcast I did with TM Hunt, we talked about this at length. We also talked about the design inspiration for the M18. Hunt detailed a Russian tool, a Spetsnaz machete, that had the general shape of the M18. Having looked at his exact inspiration and handled the M18 I am confident that the M18 is a better tool and the superior performance is due to Hunt's outstanding interpretation of the form. This is a master class in knife design.
Fit and Finish: 2
Like that picture of Braun Strowman, WWE's latest monster, where he shows off real abs, the detail work that Hunt brings to the M18's finish is surprising. A beast needn't be clean and crisp, but this knife is. The handles are perfectly rounded and textured exactly right. The spine is comfortably crowned where it needs to be and crisp elsewhere. The jimping is finely cut. Time and again I was surprised by how nice this blade is. In many cases choppers are given a coat of cake frosting thick powder coat. I feel like this is often to cover over flaws. Here Hunt merely darkens the O1 and lets every grind line stand out. As he should--this knife is so well made there is nothing to hide.
Handle Design: 2
Hunt gives a great deal of credit to Ethan Becker, as he should--this is the Becker handle with a bit of something more in length. On a knife this big, you need a good handle and the Becker handle is the best in the fixed blade world.
I have now had years of experience with TM Hunt's O1. His proprietary heat treat protocol makes this good but humble steel great. Its edge retention even here when I was blasting through literally anything I could find, was great. Its resistance to corrosion is something I couldn't meaningfully test here, but having had my Imp for years now I can tell you its fine. To me, this is one of the cooler parts of the knife world. The fact that a guy can use experience and experimentation to repurpose an old steel into something great tells us just how much room there is for innovation. Paul Bos over at Buck did it with 420HC, making it a true market weapon for Buck--superior performance in a cheap steel, and Hunt does the same thing here. I like Hunt's O1 a lot.
Blade Shape: 2
Its unconventional. The spokeshave portion is more difficult to sharpen. But what you get for those two issues is an amazing knife that can do tons of different tasks. I used it as a hatchet, as a spokeshave, to do detail work (thanks to the choke up position described in the podcast), and as a chisel (thanks to the exposed tang at the rear of the handle).
In every one of these tasks the M18 just shattered my expectations. I have used choppers before, but this was unquestionably the best I have handled short of an axe. So, on balance, I like the blade shape. I like it a lot.
You don't often hear about grinds on big fixed blades being all that ornate or complex, but here you get an amazing pair of grinds and both are phenomenally well-executed. Having used an actual spokeshave I can tell you that this is a damn good version. Not as good as a dedicated one, of course, but surprisingly close. Also it bears worth mentioning--the high primary grind and high cutting edge grind give this knife an especially acute edge despite the blade stock's enormous thickness (right at or above .25 inches).
Sheath Carry: 1
I ain't gonna lie--this thing is heavy. Its probably twice as heavy as my resident big choppa, the BK-9. So carrying this thing around isn't the easiest task in the world. The sheath also lacks built-in clips or hooks, like some big production knives have. But there are plenty of holes to lash this thing together and there is no realistic way you'd belt carry this thing--its too big and heavy. This is a pack-attached sheath only. There are a ton of ad hoc and aftermarket solutions and the leather sheath looks more accommodating than the kydex one I had on the review sample, but there is very little you can do to get around the size and shape of the knife. Even then, the fact that this is a lift up and not pull out style sheath will make lashing to a pack a challenge. I am not sure if this problem could be fixed given the knife's dimensions, but you need to know going it that securing and carrying this monster will be more work than many other knives.
Sheath Accessibility: 2
Lift-out sheaths are necessary for knives where the blade is either heavily curved or, as in this case, the tip of the blade is broader than the base. In terms of accessibility, I could have asked for anything more. The knife, even with its complex shape and bulk, comes right out of the sheath once the retention strap is unsnapped. I am not sure how good the leather sheath will be in this regard, but the rigid kydex form was great. I am not sure how it could get better.
I am torn. This is an uber-heavy blade of epic proportions. Here it is next to the Bark River Bravo 1:
It is easily the heaviest cutting tool I have handled that is not an axe. That does not bode well over a long period of time. It can be grueling to work with the M18 after three or four hours of chopping (yes, I am a moron, and yes, I should have taken breaks, but it was fun and I was making fire and it was Father's Day so I got to do what I wanted). But, and this what balances things out for me--the knife performs incredibly well at a whole range of tasks AND it can do just about anything. Given those to issues, I am willing to overlook the size issue. Its a chopper. You know going in, its not going to be a fillet knife. But unlike most other choppers out there, this can do more than just chop.
After my son's birthdaypalooza, I had six pallets hanging around the yard. I also had a lobster bake that needed some fuel. After carefully inspecting them for unwanted chemicals I proceeded to breakdown the burn-able ones. About 1.5 pallets in my chainsaw battery ran out (mind you, I have had this chainsaw for three years and it has never conked out in the middle of a task--the battery is great, its just that pallets, which are made of solid oak, are true bitches to cut). With a crowd of people coming for Father's Day, I grabbed the M18 and kept going. It was slower, of course, but not that much slower. Two or three hours later all of the pallets were processed into just the right size and shape for my fire. And the M18 was 100% fine. I pried, chopped, twisted, levered, and pulled on that blade. I was merciless and the cutting material was even more so. In the end, I strained my shoulder and crushed my pinky from all of the chopping, but the knife was a-okay.
This was tough work and it was nice to see that even when doing brutal cutting tasks, the M18 lived up to the hype. Oh and those twisted pneumatic nails are a real bitch to pull apart.
Overall Score: 19 out of 20
This was a close call. I almost gave the knife a 20. If this were a 100 point scale it would have received a 97 out of 100. It is so amazing. But there is no carry plan here beyond lashing it to stuff, which, given the size and shape, is probably what you would have to do anyway. I have seen some aftermarket solutions that involve a back strap and that seems like a good approach. As it is, I am really, really impressed with this knife. The steel is great, the design is unique, and everything is functional. If TM Hunt never makes another knife again, the M18 is enough to secure him a place in the history of knife making. This is a damn good knife, a chopper worthy of being on the cover of a Metallica album, and a knife that exhibits top shelf craftsmanship. If you want the ultimate chopper and something that can do a lot of other things, look no further. In the hands of someone with a lot of skill this could be your hatchet AND your camp knife or hunting knife. In my hands it felt like it was just short of Mjolnir.
I'll end this review with something I said in my head and aloud quite often when using the M18--fuck yeah.
The only knife that readily compares in design to the M18 is the Tom Brown Tracker, but it is so much smaller. I need to get my hands on a Tracker and see how it compares. Beyond that there is the source material--the Spetsnaz machete and that is about it. The fact that there are so few competitors is a good indicate of how amazing this blade is.